Feline Nutrition

Free Teleseminar July 22 – Benefits of a Raw Diet for Cats

Free Teleseminar
Thursday, July 22 at 8:00pm Eastern
Benefits of a Raw Diet for Cats

Join us on Thursday, July 22, at 8pm Eastern Daylight Time for a free teleseminar on feline nutrition.  Our guest will be Margaret Gates, the Executive Director of the Feline Nutrition Education Society.  Margaret will talk to us about the Benefits of a Raw Diet for Cats and answer your questions about feline nutrition in general and raw feeding in particular.

The seminar is free, but long distance phone charges may apply.  To participate in the conference, dial 1-712-432-3100.  When prompted, enter conference code 674470.

How to Select Healthy Cat Treats

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You will find a lot of information on feline nutrition on this site, but one aspect I haven’t covered in detail is treats. While treats should always be used judiciously, especially for cats that have a tendency to gain weight or are already overweight, realistically, most cat guardians want to occasionally spoil their feline charges with a special treat.  Treats also have their place when it comes to training (and yes, cats can be trained).  Since most of us will give our cats treats, it’s important to choose healthy options.Continue Reading

How to Read a Pet Food Label

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I’ve previously written about the foods I recommend based on what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive. In general, the progression from most desirable to least desirable is a raw food diet (either commercial or homemade), a home cooked whole food diet, grain-free canned food, and, if cost is a consideration, any canned food.  I do not recommend any dry food for cats (read The Truth About Dry Cat Food for more  on why this dry food is not a good choice). But even within these parameters, the available options can be overwhelming.  Pet food labels should be a useful tool to help pet owners decide which foods to select. Unfortunately, unless you know how to interpret the often confusing information on the labels, they may only add to the confusion.

Pet food packaging is all about marketing

Pet food packaging is all about marketing. Our pets couldn’t care less what container their food comes in, or whether it has cute pictures of kittens and puppies on it.  They don’t care about pretty label and brand colors, but you can bet that pet food companies spend major marketing dollars on determining which colors appeal to pet owners. Don’t let  pet foods labelled as “natural” mislead you – just because the label has the word “natural” and pictures of wholesome vegetables and grains on it does not necessarily make it so. The only way you can be sure to understand what’s in a food is by reading the label.  Here are some things to look for:

Ingredients 

Pet food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order; in other words, the most predominant ingredient has to be listed first. Look for meat based proteins as the main ingredient. Avoid anything that lists corn or soy and their by-products – these two ingredients are some of the prime culprits for causing allergies in pets. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a food is good for your pet because it lists ingredients such as peas, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and the like. Pets don’t really need these ingredients to thrive, but they make for good marketing to the pet’s human. They can be a source of antioxidants and vitamins, but in many foods, the amounts are not significant enough to make a difference.

Guaranteed Analysis

Manufacturers are required to list basic nutrient percentages on the label. Typically, this portion of the label will list crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash content. Note that there is no listing for carbohydrates on food labels, which is a very important consideration when it comes to feeding cats, who are obligate carnivores. However, it is not difficult to calculate approximate carbohydrate contents. Simply add all of the listed nutrients and subtract the total from 100% – this will give you a fairly accurate number.

AAFCO Statement

This is probably the most misunderstood item on pet food labels.  AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is the organization which is charged with establishing and enforcing animal feed requirements across all fifty state governments. Its primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of feed for human food producing livestock. The AAFCO statement on most pet food labels indicates that the food has been tested and approved as “complete and balanced for the life of a pet.”  This is sadly misleading. The tests are conducted on very small groups of animals and for very short periods of time. The only real long-term tests of pet food happen when pet owners feed these diets to their own pets!

Just like selecting food for yourself and your human family members, choosing healthy food for your pets comes down to educating yourself, reading labels, and not falling for marketing hype. Your pets will thank you for it.

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Raw Food for Cats: Separating Myth from Fact

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We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the healthier they are for us.  This is no different when it comes to feline nutrition.  Cats are obligate carnivores and as such need animal-based proteins to thrive.  They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.

Commercial pet foods are highly processed and most are too high in carbohydrates for cats, leading to all kinds of health problems.  Dry food in particular can be the source of many of the degenerative diseases we see in cats, ranging from allergies to intestinal problems to diabetes and urinary tract issues.  While a quality grain-free canned diet may be a better choice, the meat in those diets has to be cooked.  Cooking degrades the nutrients, leading to loss of enzymes, vitamins and minerals.  To make up for this, pet food manufacturers must add in supplements to make up for these losses.  Supplementation is not always exact, and depending on the manufacturer, may be done with synthetic rather than natural supplements.

There are numerous benefits from feeding a raw diet to your cat, including improved digestion, reduced stool odor and volume, increased energy, ability to maintain ideal weight, better dental health, and better urinary tract health.  With the numerous pet food recalls over the past several years, raw feeding has gained wider attention.  Embraced for decades by holistically oriented pet parents and holistic veterinarians, it is becoming more mainstream as pet parents look for alternatives to feeding commercial pet foods.  But many pet owners are still leery of the idea of feeding raw meat to their pets, and myths about raw feeding abound.  This article will help sort through the myths and facts surrounding raw feeding.

Myth:  Cats need dry food to keep their teeth clean.

Fact:  Dry kibble does not clean your cat’s teeth.  Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in.  Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole.  Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meat because it contains bacteria.

Fact:  Cats have highly acidic digestive tracts, which makes them pathogen resistant.  Their digestive tracts are also much shorter than humans – food passes through their digestive system in about 12 hours, compared to two or three times as much for humans.  This doesn’t give bacteria enough time to proliferate in their system.   As long as you use safe handling procedures with raw meat, the risk to your cat is minimal.  In fact, the emphasis on safe handling that you’ll hear from most proponents of raw feeding is for the humans in the household, not for the cat.

Caution:  this applies to healthy cats.  Bacterial resistance in cats with an already compromised immune system may be diminished.

Myth:  Raw feeding is complicated and requires grinding of meat, bones and a lot of preparation time.

Fact:  Raw feeding doesn’t have to be complicated.  While some cat owners want to make their own raw foods, there are many companies that offer frozen raw food that is already nutritionally balanced. You can find my recommendations here.  It really comes down to thaw and feed – no more effort than opening a can!

Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meet because it may contain parasites.

FactReputable raw food producers source their meat from reputable farmers and test for pathogens and parasites.  Of course, there is no way to be 100% sure, but then, neither is there a 100% guarantee that commercially prepared foods are going to be free of toxins, pathogens or other contamination, as the 2007 pet food recall showed us in such tragic proportions.  Do your research and find out where the company you’re buying from sources their ingredients.  Reputable manufacturers will be happy to answer your questions.

Myth:  Raw diets are not complete and balanced.

Fact:  That depends on the diet you choose to feed.  Some raw diets are balanced and include proper levels of supplements, others will require adding a good vitamin and mineral supplement.  The reality is that no one food can be nutritionally complete.  True nutrition comes from a varied, whole foods diet.  This is why it’s a good idea to mix and rotate different meats and maybe even different manufacturers.

Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons